Happy New Years!
On New Year’s Eve at my friend’s house, she ask us all to share “ what are your goals for the new year and how will you pursue them”.
What are my goals? I looked around the group gathered around the dining room table, and explained, “I plan to go In Search of the Great America, traveling in a mobile radio lab, to all 48 states, then flying to HI and AK. I’m going to ask people, ‘where did you grow up and what was it like, was there a time in history when America was great, what’s great about now for you, what’s your great America in the future, and who are we when we are at our best.’ 93 cities in 108 days. I know, I’m crazy! Frankly, I’m intimidated by my own ambition…”
It’s true, I am intimidated by how scope and scale of this project. It is going to be a lot of hard work and has so many moving parts. May feels like it is just around the corner… I have 5 months to raise money, get a vehicle, organize volunteers, get the word out and outfit the mobile radio lab for living and recording the journey. But I am also so excited to hear what people will say, how they will answer these questions. We live in such a diverse country, not just socio-economically and racially, but the land itself: rocky mountains, deserts, grassy plains, sandy beaches, lakes, grand cities, tiny towns, and forests of every kind. I can’t wait to start the adventure and look forward to what my videographers will capture of this vast and amazing land.
How I will pursue my goal? From now until October, my life will revolve around In Search of the Great America. I plan to spend 5-8 hours a day organizing this project, and collaborate with my community to make it happen. I been writing grants, and want to share part of them here. Whether or not I get any grants, writing them is a great way to solidify my ideas. There were two important questions that helped me think about this project… so I thought I’d share my answers here.
What are your goals with this project?
Every aspect of In Search of the Great America is community driven and interactive. Its motivation, conception, planning, and execution are founded on the power of public engagement and collective visioning.
When Donald Trump said, “Make America great again,” I wondered, ‘What great America? For whom? When was America great? What’s already great about now?’ It felt that these were important questions and could best be answered by talking to a lot of people from diverse backgrounds.
Outside the framework of politics and media, everyone has their own definition of a great America: past, present and future. This project is committed to giving voice to hundreds of people’s hopes and dreams for a Great America.
To make this happen, the project will set up in public spaces with the help of local community organizations. It is free and open to the public both online and in person and actively invites participation though the on-location interviews, on-the-road videographers, website submissions, weekly podcasts and videos, and community volunteers.
My role in this project is to inspire excitement and participation, but then to hand over control of the actual sights and sounds of the artwork. Everything you see and hear will be created by the public. The artist is only there to facilitate the experience, so the artwork can take on a life of its own and live on in the community after the vehicle hits the road again.
How is your project or program interactive?
Audience participation is the backbone of this project. In Search of the Great America exists only through the participant’s thoughts, words and vision.
The public can experience In Search of the Great America in five ways: participating in the interviews, listening to the podcast, joining the artist for a stretch of road as a videographer, watching the community produced on-the-road videos, or by hosting the mobile radio lab in their driveway.
The heart of this project is the interviews. Each guest will answer the same questions, “Where did you grow up and what was it like? Was there a time in history that you thought America was great and why? What is great about America now for you? What does your great America look like in the future? Who are we when we are at our best?”
An intimate, non-judgmental environment is the most important part of a good interview. This project was designed to make people excited about the topic and comfortable in expressing themselves. My biggest skill as a performance artist is helping people feel comfortable and confident enough to talk openly. I believe that everyone has a story to tell and every story is important.
To encourage participation, there will be a home team devoted to contacting libraries, media outlets, civic centers and community organizations. They will ask for suggestions of people to interview and to help promote the project in the community. The team will also use social media for community outreach. To ensure spontaneity and diversity of guests, I will encourage people to participate on the spot as well.
The call for volunteer videographers will begin in March. Anyone can volunteer to be a videographer, from professional videographers to friends, family members, and interested parties. The only qualification is excitement for the project and the ability to produce and post a short video. The equipment is at their discretion. It can be professional cameras or a simple cell phone. Each volunteer will join the adventure for 1-3 weeks and produce a 5-10 minute video each week. These will include scenery from the road, short interviews with people met along the way, interviews with the podcast host and audio clips from that week.
Another important way to participate is to listen to the stories on the podcast and to watch the on-the-road videos. This is a simple and easy way to enjoy the adventure from home or office. Listeners will be invited to post their own story on the website or even volunteer to come document a stretch of road.
In addition to RV parks and Walmart parking lots, Boondockers Welcome has a great website for finding places to park an RV in someone’s driveway. But no matter where I stay for the night, the In Search of the Great America signage on the vehicle and my custom designed uniform will spark conversations and invite people to think about the topic and maybe give in an interview. More often than not, these moments of serendipity end up being the best part of an epic road trip.
Thank you for your interest!
Happy New Year to you all and thank you for your interest in this project. I hope In Search of the Great America captures some of your hopes and dreams for the new year.
May this new year bring you exciting new adventures.